Teens don’t read and can hardly write, right?

Paul Raven @ 12-02-2010

Inbox overload!Wrong… unless those 40,000 words they text out over a month don’t count [via LifeHacker; image by nate steiner].

Sure, a lot of those texts will be rote replies and simple questions, but the point stands: teenagers communicate heavily using a form of the written word. When I was a teenager in the nineties I used to write a lot of letters, but I’d be very surprised if I approached a tenth of that wordcount, which equates to the lower limit for a novel (or at least it used to). Text has a lower bandwidth than face-to-face speech, but SMS messages have the advantage of asynchronicity over a regular phone call, and as gnomic as the compressed words and pseudo-1337 of text messages may be to us older folk, they have the same capability for hidden meaning and word-play as “proper” writing.

Where am I going with this? I’m not sure, to be honest… but I’m increasingly convinced that blaming technologised teen lifestyles for their perceived disinterest in reading is a fiction born of contempt and generational differences. The “cellphone novel” is a popular format in Japan – has anyone really tried pushing it here in the West? Or will we need to wait for that generation to grow its own stars and mavens organically without the help of old-media gatekeepers?

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3 Responses to “Teens don’t read and can hardly write, right?”

  1. Patrick H says:

    This seems self evidently true to me! People (in the technological west, just to be clear) read and write more than ever, just less and less print, particularly for ephemeral stuff like news and interpersonal communications (sorry, rather grand term for letters and notes). The “death literacy” hoo hah you get is just crazy talk! I suppose it’s “the change of literacy” that frightens people – um, deleted a whole lot of rather zen stuff about change requiring destruction and yet rebirth. You get the picture…

  2. Mark Dykeman says:

    Maybe it’s a quality vs. quality thing, though. As well, how much thought goes into structuring a text message? For instant impact, maybe. For thoughtfulness to appeal to a large group of people… not so much.

  3. John Klima says:

    I know one of the differences between a SMS txt novel using standard 26-letter Latin-based alphabets versus logographic languages is that while we only average 25 words a txt, the logographic language would have ~160 words. This means more of the story in each txt and fewers txts to tell the whole story.

    It’s not impossible, just not very practical.